Ryan SCUMLIFE: Polish Beer, Bootleg Fashion & Making Musicians’ Merch

Ryan makes “High fashion for low lives”. Frequently repped by the leaders of hip hop here in the UK and overseas, his clothing brand SCUMLIFE cracks open a can in suspicious Gucci sliders. Ryan is a tenacious creative, grafting into esteemed notoriety while also growing multiple side projects such as Healthy Boys and The Antisocial Drinking Club. He’s known for nonsense label descriptions and flipping iconic logos, matching catwalk fashion with corner shop classics.

“British off licence culture […] I do it to death.”

Given his influence in the alternative hip hop scene, we met on the international-Skype-highway to discuss music, his new collection and upcoming guide to Croatian beer. We learnt the origins of his various ventures, who he’s made garms for, and what it takes to turn thoughts into threads. Check out the chat below and cop the latest SCUMLIFE drop.

Katie & Ryan – Pic: @mr.harvey.wallbanger

How do you feel seeing Tekashi 6ix9ine every time you search for ‘scumlife’?

“That’s genuinely been such a gripe and there’s been so many times I’ve thought about scrapping the name. It’s kinda weird because when you search it, I dunno whether it’s because I’m tryna constantly check the tracking online as to where my stuff is popping up, but it slots in between 6ix9ine, and when you look at the hashtags it’s just all 6ix9ine then the odd thing of mine. Trust me, I purged my Instagram once of all the pictures and I was gunna start changing the name but I’d already had the name tags for the necks done. So yeah, it does gripe, but I think being from the UK and not from there a lot of people hopefully don’t know about 6ix9ine. No one’s ever said anything like ‘Oh is it anything to do with 6ix9ine?’.”

What led you to create SCUMLIFE?

“It started all the way back when I used to live in Slough in the flat round the back of a train station. It was really skatty, going through one of them phases when it was my first place smashing beers every night. I had a t-shirt brand more geared to metal and heavier music that I was tryna push merch for. But in that sort of music you wear the t-shirts of the bands not the brands attached to it. I came up with this thing ‘SCUMLIFE’ from a Dopethrone song, they’re super heavy. They had this song called ‘Scum Fuck Blues‘ and I was obsessed with this song and would listen to it every night. I thought it could be my next design for this t-shirt brand and made a bunch of hats, but my heart just wasn’t in it. It said ‘Scumlife’ with two inverted crosses and I couldn’t be bothered to pursue it. Couple years down the line in 2018, I was like ‘Right, I’m gunna start my own clothing thing, stop messing about and do it all properly.’ That hat stuck with me and it had to be that, because SCUMLIFE, ‘life’ and ‘lifestyle’, ‘Scum’ and ‘life’. It comes from that, smashing cans on a weeknight and it’s very apt for UK hip hop people and a lot of my friends. It’s very defining for us.”

Stinkin Slumrok – Pic: @mr.harvey.wallbanger
What record labels and artists have you worked with?

“As far as directly working for labels, I work very closely with the Potent Funk guys and I’ve done a couple of bits for other well-known hip hop labels. It kinda depends because when I do the work it’s usually one-on-one with the artists on the labels, so as far as the actual labels, it’s Potent Funk, but there have been quite a few guys on Blah I’ve done stuff with, couple of High Focus guys. I dunno if you want me to drop names… my stuff has been worn by Dike, Baxter, Lee Scott (Lee Scott was like the first to wear it that kinda made it pop), we had Stinkin Slumrok, Sniff, CLBRKS (I’ve done that project recently where they put it out on my platform, we did a collaboration hoody and a few bits and bobs). I’ve done some tour merch with Jam Baxter, done YungSwegLawd bits with Black Josh. There’s a rapper over in America called DJ Lucas, I’m quite into different alternative US hip hop and I made a cap for him that he wore in a video. It was a bootleg on Mr. Clean which is an American cleaning product and that’s what he calls himself, the Young Mr. Clean. That was quite sick. Getting about.”

What do you say to people who think bootlegging brands is dead and oversaturated?

“I’d say you’re 100% right. That’s the problem with everyone, even if they don’t do it as their first port of call like I would, they still bootleg. You look at these guys’ merch and they’re using a logo but their name done in that style. It’s a very saturated and excessively-done thing, but I think where I differentiate and stand a bit different is the sort of stuff I’m bootlegging. To a degree Gucci and Chanel everyone is doing, understood, but I try and keep more on the British off licence culture, like Costcutter, I do it to death. All the Polish beers, lagers and stuff. It’s things you don’t normally see bootlegged, but a lot of people out there do connect with it and they can’t get that sort of stuff bootlegged elsewhere.”

Ryan – @katiethorne94
I hear you’re close to finishing your first book, Smashing Cans in Foreign Lands. What’s that all about?

“OK so, I’m a massive beer fan, like not in a way of being pretentious and smelling the aromas, but it’s pretty much all I drink: beer and coffee. Going on holiday, I’ve never left Europe, so to get to the hot countries you’ve got to go down Italy, Croatia or Spain. Barely been to Spain, don’t really like Italian beer, but we love Croatia, like they’ve got great festivals and stuff. I feel that one of the main things that brings me back is that the beer is incredible in Croatia and I had a bit of a revelation once I was down there this summer: no one drinks Croatian beer. I feel like Polish beer plays such a massive part in modern culture, everyone drinks a Tyskie, a Perla, all of that, but Croatian beer is incredible. Everyone goes to Outlook and these Croatian music festivals but no one really knows about the beer. Smashing Cans in Foreign Lands is a guide to… you’re going to your festivals, you’re into your hip hop, you’re buying your merch, and you can get your book. You can know when you land that it’s covering all bases. And I don’t think anyone has done a book about Croatian beer before in the English language. Maybe for a reason.”

You’re releasing it through The Antisocial Drinking Club – what does it take to be a member?

“Moreso it’s an open discussion. It originally started off with just bootlegging Anti Social Social Club, then I was banging on about Perla. I’d chuck a story up and someone would be like ‘Sick I love Perla’. I’ve had long chats with people in the DMs about beers, for example I’ll share a picture of an abstract Lithuanian or Polish beer I’ve found in the shop and someone will message me saying ‘Banging, I tried a duhduhdhuh the other day,’ then you’ll get chatting. The Anti Social Drinking Club isn’t necessarily a members only thing, without sounding pretentious in anyway, it’s just an open forum and open conversation. I wanna get that dialect flowing about something that I’m really interested in that other people are willing to talk about, learn about and exchange ideas.”

Where does your other brand Healthy Boys differ from SCUMLIFE?

“Healthy Boys is a little bit different, it’s still new. It literally came from being in lockdown and having loads of time for working at home. The SCUMLIFE thing is limited to a degree, where it’s never gunna go too far doing designs with the Chanel logo or different companies’ brand names. But I did some facemasks the minute they were saying ‘You’ve got to be masking up to go out,’ it was the Corona logo that said ‘SCUMLIFE’ and then bellow that it says ‘Healthy Boys’, as in staying healthy. Funnily enough, you know sweet chilli sauce you buy in supermarkets down the world food isles? There’s a thing called Healthy Boy Brand and they do this big bottle of sweet chilli sauce that I used to absolutely love. In a way that’s been lifted too, but on the bottle was this fat kid and it wasn’t necessarily healthy, so the spin on that is the excess rap music scene where everyone is like pockets fat, mega baggy T-shirts and everything in excess. Like my neck tags for the different clothes and hats have a paragraph of pure crap that’s exclusive to that, just talking about getting rich and staying healthy. It’s slowly evolved in my head, I just type crap out and people love it. So far it’s gone down quite well.”

Clearly you’re an ideas man, how do you convert your designs into finished products?

“It varies very much. Sometimes I’ll be sat at my desk at work and an idea comes to mind, then I’ll spend my lunchbreak making it up, go home, print it and it’s online the next day. Sometimes, like for the bootleg I did of the Kestrel logo, it’s a bit more of an intricate design. It had ‘SCUMLIFE’ and ‘Legalise Spice’ along the top and bottom, it was gunna be gold and black, a whole long thought-out idea that I sat on for a few months because the file was hard to work with and I couldn’t find the time to work on it. So a design can go on for months then I’ll finally get to do it, or sometimes it’ll be like, bang. Like today on my lunch break, I’m doing some backpacks that I wasn’t gunna do, I made up the logo, after this call I’ll burn them onto a screen, print them off and they’ll be up at the end of the month type-thing. So, it’s very sporadic or a drawn out process, there’s no real set way.”

Is that on a DIY basis or do you outsource to manufacturers?

“No, I never outsource my own stuff, if I do a collaboration, then yeah. There are a couple of guys that I’m working with at the moment on potential projects and it’s at the stage of exchanging artworks. I’m not a ‘drawing guy’. I can manage it, not very well or cleanly, like I can’t use Photoshop and I can’t draw. I use a thing called Serif that I used as a kid in school, and it’s just a case of getting a bit of paper, drawing it with a pencil and then a black colouring pen, taking a picture of it on my phone, dumping it onto the software, and then to my best ability, tracing it there. That’s why a lot of my stuff is text-based and not nice images or cartoon graphics and grand stuff, because I don’t have that in me unfortunately. But that’s why bootlegging is good. Copying other people’s work is so much easier than doing your own…”

Would you ever want a physical store or is it all about the bedroom floor?

“Yeah it’s definitely in the grand scheme of things. I have a little information/about section on my website that says we want to have a brick and mortar store. I have this vision in my head… I go to Europe quite a lot and they have this thing that we just don’t seem to have in this country, it’s a coffee bar where you go sit and have a coffee and you can get a bottle of the local beer. They used to have this thing in London, I think it was called Pure Groove Records and I used to go loads as a kid to see the in-store performances. You could get a coffee (pretty sure you could get a beer but I was too young at the time), you could buy records and they’d have live performances. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and they went out of business, but within that you can do everything within one base. That is the idea one day: to have a clothes shop/place where people can hang out. But yeah, physical store one day. As to where, I was on the phone today to this lady, I’m tryna move out of my flat at the moment to step it up a gear and try to get this art space, but I’m very new to it.” [Sirens wail]

What’s next for SCUMLIFE?

“Same old thing, new gear out every month. I’m doing a whole thing going back to the roots, doing some Costcutter/Chanel bootleggy gear. I’m tryna do more complete sets rather than just doing a T-shirt, so we’ve got women’s crop-tops and women’s hoodies – tryna branch out more than just baggy T-shirts for the boys. So, doing stuff for women, still doing the T-shirts but also shopping bags. I’ve got some really cool stuff for winter. I’ve recently done some necklaces, I’d like to do more of them but through SCUMLIFE. The book has sucked so much of my attention as of late, that’s why things may have slipped a bit that I’m tryna it reel back in now because I’ve spent so much time doing that. It’s just gotta constantly grow in every single avenue that I can without being engulfed. So I’m tryna move out of the flat, not living-wise, but move into an art space, up-grade the gear and slowly consume as much as I physically can. If that makes sense… it makes sense in my head.”

Shop the new SCUMLIFE gear, featuring Costcutter, Chanel, Happy Shoplifter and White Ace.

SCUMLIFE: Website / Instagram / Facebook

Reverb Music: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Spotify

Interviewed by: James Wijesinghe

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